Evolving etiquette

A new study from the Pew Research Center reveals just how attached we all are to our phones—and how we’re writing new etiquette rules around them.

Among the 3,217 respondents, there was a surprising degree of consensus on certain cellphone do’s and don’ts. 77 percent of Americans think it’s OK to use a cellphone while walking down the street, and 75 percent think it’s OK on public transportation. Meanwhile, upwards of 80 percent consider cellphone use to be off limits at family dinners, meetings, church, or movie theaters.

These results belie the generalized grumbling about gadget-obsessed “kids these days” that tends to dominate op-ed pages. Although younger people are more tolerant of cellphone use overall, Americans of all ages agree that mobile devices are permissible in public settings and not in quiet, intimate ones.

This comes from Vicky Gan at CityLab, and includes a really important point, which is that the study doesn’t clarify what constitutes “cell phone use.” If older people interpret “use” to mean “making calls,” there’s a wide gap between that older view and the new reality, which is that these mobile devices are pocket supercomputers.

In any event, it’s fascinating to see that a loose etiquette for new devices has formed organically within the same decade that the iPhone’s debut.